State legislation seeks to expand Rockdale Board of Commissioners to five members

Everyone is all a-Twitter about the latest news of legislation introduced in the Georgia State Senate this week that would expand the current Rockdale County Board of Commissioners from three members, elected at-large, to four members to represent districts. The Citizen is on top of it with their story here. The chairman and current members, all Democrats, do not like this plan, as Chairman Oz Nesbitt takes to Twitter here.

Despite the protests from Chairman Nesbitt and the commissioners that they are shocked no one came to them to talk about this proposal, this has come up from time to time in Rockdale County and usually comes with some political undertones. Matter of fact, I covered a town hall meeting of residents last year that discussed the same exact thing. The story is here.

The story was raised even earlier back in 2006 when the BOC and chairman were all Republicans. Richard Oden and Lew Belcher sought to expand the BOC, saying the three at-large members did not sufficiently represent the county’s minority residents. A bill introduced in the General Assembly that year that would have amended Rockdale County’s charter to change the BOC to five members representing districts died a quiet death for lack of support. The cause was Rep. John Douglas, a Republican who’s district included parts of Rockdale, said he would vote against the bill.

Oddly, the topic of expanding the BOC was not talked about much after Oden won election as county chairman in 2008. It seems that the Democrats, when they were out of power, demanded a change, but once they were in charge the topic was never brought up. The difference this time around is that according to the Citizen article that both chairs of the county Democratic and Republican parties favor the move and that a Republican is carrying the effort to the state General Assembly.

Rockdale’s county government is a rare thing in Georgia in that its Board of Commissioners is each elected at-large. Both Post 1 and Post 2 commissioners and the chairman supposedly represent the county as a whole without districts. There is a lot of history to this as when the county commission last expanded from one commissioner to three back in the 1970’s.

The General Assembly approved a change from a one-member board to a new three-member Board of Commissioners in 1977. The U.S. Department of Justice voided the new board out of concerns it diluted African-American representation but withdrew its objections within a year, and the three-person BOC convened on Dec. 1, 1977.

Also, in my time covering this topic, I was told more than once by people smarter than me that changing the makeup of a local government body has always been up to the people since that is where power rests. Any organized group does not have to go to the local government board they are trying to change. Rather, people go to their state representative since all county and city governments are creatures of the General Assembly. The chairman and commissioners have a right to express their opinion on the matter, but they can not stop it if enough people get behind the idea.

The move to expand Rockdale’s BOC from three to five commissioners still has a long way to go. Any decision to change the number of commissioners requires passage of a local act of the General Assembly. Any legislation will likely stipulate county voters approve of the change in a referendum. Also, any change would also require pre-clearance by the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act. Georgia Almanac from the state’s GALILEO online service has an excellent history and explanation of how it all works, here.

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